In the past week, two internet correspondents have sent me a You Tube headlined, "Muslim Demographics." It portrays a decline in Christian populations and a rise in Islam, to the extent that "The global culture our children will inherit will be vastly different than what it is today." The clip ends by identifying its source as believers who wish to share a Gospel message, and calling the viewers to action.
What action? Perhaps making more Christian babies, and/or converting Muslims. There is no indication of sources for the data or the demographic projections.
If there is a threat to Christians and others from Muslim dominance, there is a way short of renewed Crusade to deal with it. My own limited understanding of demography begins with the importance of educating women. Increases in secondary and university education have been associated with declining birth rates as women move from home to the workplace, and show greater capacity and willingness to avoid pregnancy.
Israeli Jews are especially sensitive to the threat of Muslim demographics. Yet there are trends that may protect the Jewish homeland from being overwhelmed by Muslim babies who become angry young men and women. Jewish skeptics wonder if those trends will make Israel a better or worse place.
One line of defense is the ultra-Orthodox communities. Women are high educated, but mostly in religious texts where "be fruitful and multiply" is more prominent than "attend university and go to work." Even in these communities economics and education do their work. There are signs of declining fertility, but only from very high to high. They remain substantially higher than among Israeli Arabs. Ultra-Orthodox communities produce 8 children per woman as opposed to less than 5 among Israeli Arabs. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/944011.html
Yet another source of Jews is the Third World. Bnei Menasha in eastern India and Burma claim to be remnants of a Lost Tribe resulting from the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE. Falash Mura in Ethiopia say that they are former Jews enticed or forced to become Christians generations ago. A group of Peruvian Indians claim that they descend from Jewish traders who made their way into the jungle in the 19th century, a long way from Jewish women. There are also clusters of people in Uganda and Zimbabwe who assert that they are Jewish.
The Bnei Menasha, Falash Mura, and Peruvians have advocates among Israeli and Diaspora Jews who accept their claims, contribute money and media support to prepare individuals for migration and persuade the Israeli government to let them in. There are rabbis, some of them with considerable distinction among the Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox of Israel, who declare the communities to be Jewish, or to have Jewish roots and be worthy of reconversion. Ha'aretz of May 1st had a story covering two-thirds of an inner page on the Bnei Menasha. Several hundred out of seven to nine thousand have entered the country at various times, and many more are waiting for permission. (See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bnei_Menashe )
The story of the Falash Mura is the best known. Frequent media pieces have described the movement of Ethiopians from villages to central camps supported by American fund raisers. Ethiopians already in Israel demonstrate their demands to "bring our brothers and sisters." Pressures on the Israeli government have produced spurts of immigration permits, announcements that the movement of Falash Mura has been completed, followed by more movement from villages to the camps, and renewed campaigns to accept the newly recruited in Israel. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/falashmura.html
Less than enthusiastic responses among Israeli policymakers reflect two principle concerns. One is a suspicion that there is a bottomless supply of individuals who view Israel as more attractive than their homelands, and are willing to claim Judaism in exchange for migration, resettlement, housing, training, education, and income support from generous Americans and the Israeli government. Another is a concern about the commitment of these people to Judaism. Christian missionaries worked among the Bnei Menasha and Falash Mura, contributed to their knowledge of the Bible and perhaps their attraction to Judaism. Individuals have reverted to Christianity or animism once in Israel. Some assert that they are both Christian and Jewish. While these traits may not bother enthusiasts of ecumenicalism and multi-culturalism, they do not carry much weight with Israel's political and religious establishments.
During 34 years associated with the Hebrew University, I have noticed that an increasing incidence of Arab women students are covering their heads. I do not know if this reflects a change in style that is superficial or significant, whether it indicates something about politics as well as religion. Arab women have been among the brightest and most interesting of the students in my classes. I am more inclined to rely on them than villagers from India and Burma, Ethiopia, Peru, Uganda or Zimbabwe to keep this a decent, and not too crowded country.
I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address, below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science